Presque Isle High School's bronze wildcat statue is displayed on the school grounds. Presque Isle schools have implemented a mask mandate after positive COVID-19 cases. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle schools will mandate masks starting Thursday after the district identified four positive COVID-19 cases in the high school since classes began just six days ago.

About 30 students have been quarantined as close contacts in that time, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said Wednesday afternoon. He’s making the decision administratively, though the school board may discuss it at its upcoming meeting on Sept. 8. Masks were optional before Wednesday’s decision.

Presque Isle joins a slew of Aroostook schools that are changing their plans in the opening days of the fall semester. Cases among students and staff have forced Caribou and Van Buren high schools into remote learning, and pushed back the school start dates for Limestone and Fort Fairfield schools.

While students and educators alike would probably prefer to work without masks, it isn’t worth going back into remote learning, Greenlaw said. A CDC exception allows schools with mask mandates to forgo quarantining close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases, regardless of vaccination status.

“It’s been a challenge. I didn’t anticipate the number of cases in our schools we’ve seen in such a short period of time,” Greenlaw said. “We proved last year by following CDC guidelines we could safely operate our schools in person five days a week.”

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.